Here Comes This Season's Savior

Anchorman Yair Lapid is the latest political savior for educated, secular, well-off and moderate Israelis.

It happened in the past, and it can happen again before the next elections. There are plenty of people in Israel, most of them educated, secular, well-off and moderate in their political views, who feel uncomfortable - in part justifiably, in part not - with the existing parties and their leaders come election time. Since they find it hard to vote for these parties, they find themselves drawn, almost magically, toward some of the season's saviors: people who are impressive in appearance, not corrupt, and who promise new politics.

Once it was the Dash party of Yigal Yadin, then Shinui of Yosef "Tommy" Lapid. Even Tzomet of Rafael Eitan played a similar role. The phenomenon peaked with the bizarre vote for the Pensioners Party of Rafi Eitan.

This time, for the role of this season's savior, it's anchorman Yair Lapid.

It cannot be denied: There is something enticing and attractive in voting for people like this. While every leader of an existing party carries behind him a long trail of activity that can easily be criticized, the season's savior has no record of political activity. Yadin made his name in the Masada and Hatzor archaeological digs, to which was added a vague memory of being chief of staff. Yair Lapid's father, Yosef, was a journalist and a sharp-tongued pundit. But they did not have a real record of public activity or responsibility. No one heard about the political compromises they had to make, about the declared policy that was never achieved, about failures and mistakes, simply because they were never really active in the political arena.

No one could blame them for selling out for a position in the coalition, for having to make painful and sometimes ugly concessions to stay in power or maybe to fulfill a desired vision. Indeed, they were not corrupt, but they had also not done very much.

The higher the hopes, the deeper the disappointment when these parties joined the coalition as junior partners. When the enchanting rhetoric of Yadin ("regional ministers" as a solution to the problems of governance in Israel ), or the fiery promises of Yosef Lapid to break the power of the ultra-Orthodox community and create a "free" society is measured by the results, it's hard to point to any real achievement.

Yadin turned out to be a failure when it came to leadership, not one of the reforms he promised was achieved, and in the end failed to lead even his own party, which broke up under him. Lapid, who served as justice minister, did not leave any imprint on legislation or relations between religion and state. Why? Because the political reality is a lot more complicated than election speeches, and leadership requires experience and ability, which are not identical with fiery campaign rhetoric or impressive television appearances.

These saviors of the season, just as they arrived from nowhere, returned to nowhere. And never have so many votes of hundreds of thousands of educated and well-intentioned people been wasted as they were when these voters selected Dash or Shinui.

It would be wrong, however, to maintain that these saviors had no political impact; yet it was different from what was expected. In all the cases these parties, whose supporters came from the center or the moderate left, tipped the political balance to the right and helped Likud win, under Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon.

That's how it was in the upheaval of 1977, when Likud won not because it had increased its power significantly but because the Alignment (Labor-Mapam ) lost a third of its supporters to Dash. The Alignment went down dramatically from 51 MKs to 32, while Likud merely grew from 39 to 43. The votes the Alignment lost did not go to Likud but to Dash, which took 15 Knesset seats. Yadin put Begin in power.

A similar thing happened in the 2003 elections. One reason for Labor's dismal failure was that Shinui won 15 Knesset seats, most of them with the help of Labor and Meretz voters, thus making Ariel Sharon prime minister. Seven Pensioner MKs in 2006 also helped the right.

Therefore, if someone wants to vote in the next election for Likud, let him do so directly. All other voters need to remember that if they select this season's savior (Lapid or someone else ) they will bring Likud to power again. There should be no illusions about that.